Player focus: Xhaka impresses against Manchester United

Once again, Granit Xhaka was one of Arsenal’s best performers against Manchester United and scored a vital goal during their 2-0 win. How did the Switzerland international fare though? 

Wenger revealed during his pre-match presser that the Switzerland international was a significant doubt after sustaining a kick to his ankle during last weekend’s derby defeat at Tottenham.

However, Xhaka started and impressed during a match that could’ve swung either way at the Emirates despite Arsenal’s early goal-scoring opportunities.

Keen to keep the ball moving in midfield and showcase his excellent passing range, Xhaka completed more passes than any other Arsenal player and was threatening when spraying balls forward.

As shown by this player dashboard, you can see that Xhaka’s distribution was excellent throughout and he rarely made mistakes in midfield – during a match where his presence was heavily felt. (Picture source: FourFourTwo’s StatsZone)

This was displayed perfectly in the first five minutes when his long pass was met by an on-rushing Kieran Gibbs down the flank. Although that opportunity was squandered, it was an early indicator of what Granit Xhaka would bring to the game.

He smartly made himself a viable passing option whenever Arsenal were in possession, meaning that Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick both had a tough job trying to isolate him to stop his distribution.

United didn’t press with the required intensity levels and Xhaka naturally made them pay for that. After a few near misses from team-mates in the first 45, he became more involved and was visibly calling for the ball to try and increase the tempo, making the visitors pay for their lax defensive style.

Xhaka (pictured) in action advancing with the ball against Manchester United

Xhaka completed all six of his attempted long through-ball passes, had 94.6% pass accuracy and 85 touches – more than any Arsenal player. (Picture source: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

Ten minutes after the restart, he did just that. Another probing pass towards Gibbs could’ve resulted in the game’s opener, had his delivery been more accurate. So Xhaka took matters into his own hands and seconds later, wheeled away in celebration.

A speculative effort from range which took a wicked deflection off the aforementioned Herrera before looping over David de Gea into the corner. In a tense affair, his decision to take aim from distance paid off and helped seal all three points.

United’s backline were rightly rocked and Danny Welbeck’s well-taken header shortly afterwards saw Arsenal score a quick-fire double.

Xhaka remained patient and held his position defensively as United went in search of a way back into the match. His lack of mobility can easily be countered with experience in covering spaces in front of the backline. Unfortunately, he limped off with 15 minutes remaining after feeling a recurrence of the minor ankle injury which meant he had to be substituted against Spurs.

He deserved the plaudits on an afternoon where he made his presence felt to help secure all three points against José Mourinho’s side.

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